Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Royalty on Active Service

Not the first, but certainly the first famous royalty who went out in person at the head of her troops to fight England's battles, is Queen Boadicea. Hence her place of honour at the head of this article.

Today kings and queens have practically ceased from leading their armies into the fray, the last of the fighting sovereigns being the great Napoleon. Of course, the Emperor William I. of Germany, and Napoleon III. accompanied their respective armies in the Franco-Prussian war, but less as commanders than mere spectators; and equally, of course, the present Emperor William may do the same thing, should Germany go to war again, though I very much doubt whether he would be content to remain a mere spectator - a role that scarcely seems to fit his character.

But if the supreme head of the state is no longer a fighting man, the royal families of Europe, and especially the royal family of England, have all through the present century given their countries brave and capable warriors.

It was in the wars directly following on the French Revolution and before the rise of Buonaparte, that the Duke of York, the Queen's uncle, especially distinguished himself. The Republican armies were already superbly successful in all parts of Europe. But at the Troisville Redoubts, near Cambray, on the Belgian frontier, they met one of their severest repulses, the opposing hosts being commanded by the Duke of York, who, during the engagement, showed remarkable personal bravery.

The Duke of Kent, the Queen's father, and brother to the Duke of York, was a famous warrior in his day, courageous to a degree, and noted for the severity with which he maintained military discipline. he saw active service on more than one occasion, but especially distinguished himself in the expedition under Sir Charles Grey, against the French in the West India Islands. The impetuous bravery with which he led the flank division against certain important posts, in Martinique, became a by-word in the army.

The Crimean war saw no less than three members of royal houses at the front - the Duke of Cambridge, the Duke of Saxe Weimar, and Prince Napoleon Buonaparte. The first success of that terrible and misguided war - the Battle of Alma - saw all three actively engaged. The Duke of Cambridge did splendid work in the famous storming of the great redoubt. At a critical stage of the battle he and Sir Colin Campbell received orders to take this difficult position. Success meant victory; failure spelt defeat. The Guards and Highlanders advanced in splendid order, and cheered by their commanders dashed up the slopes reckless of shot and shell. They encountered the Russians, muzzle to muzzle; scaled the redoubt; and, driving all before them, won for England one of the most splendid of her victories.

By Reginald Maingay for The Royal Magazine December 1899

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